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Low-Energy Processes for

Unconventional Oil Recovery

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Low-Energy Processes for
Unconventional Oil Recovery

Mohammad Reza Fassihi


Anthony R. Kovscek
Stanford University

Society of Petroleum Engineers

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Copyright 2017 Society of Petroleum Engineers

All rights reserved. No portion of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any means, including electronic
storage and retrieval systems, except by explicit, prior written permission of the publisher except for brief pas-
sages excerpted for review and critical purposes.

Printed in the United States of America.

This book was prepared by members of the Society of Petroleum Engineers and their well-qualified colleagues
from material published in the recognized technical literature and from their own individual experience and exper-
tise. While the material presented is believed to be based on sound technical knowledge, neither the Society of
Petroleum Engineers nor any of the authors or editors herein provide a warranty either expressed or implied in its
application. Correspondingly, the discussion of materials, methods, or techniques that may be covered by letters
patents implies no freedom to use such materials, methods, or techniques without permission through appropriate
licensing. Nothing described within this book should be construed to lessen the need to apply sound engineering
judgment nor to carefully apply accepted engineering practices in the design, implementation, or application of
the techniques described herein.

ISBN 978-1-61399-475-7

First Printing 2017

Society of Petroleum Engineers

222 Palisades Creek Drive
Richardson, TX 75080-2040 USA

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Unconventional hydrocarbons are generally portrayed in the media as dirty to produce. While this character-
ization is generally incorrect because the industry subscribes to good environmental health and safety practices,
many unconventional hydrocarbons do have a greater greenhouse gas (GHG) footprint in comparison to conven-
tional crude oils. For heavy oil and bitumen, this greater GHG footprint is created, in large part, because steam is
generated on the surface by burning natural gas and the steam is then injected to enhance oil recovery. Accord-
ingly, there has been an emphasis on quantifying the environmental aspects of hydrocarbon production and on
developing recovery methods that result in smaller environmental and GHG footprints. Likewise, the role played
by unconventional resources in the energy supply spectrum has grown.
Despite the petroleum industrys desire to evaluate and potentially implement less carbon-emission-intensive
recovery processes for unconventional oil recovery, we noticed a gap in industry literature related to low-energy
processes. We proposed the idea in early 2010 of publishing a book on the topic of low-carbon-intensity recov-
ery processes for unconventional resources to the Society of Petroleum Engineers (SPE) book committee. We
contacted Mike Prats and sought his feedback on publishing a book that would supplement the information in his
Thermal Recovery monograph. Additionally, we circulated the outline to a number of outside experts and solic-
ited their comments on content. After receiving positive feedback, we began the journey of developing this book
that focuses on low-carbon-intensity recovery techniques creating smaller environmental footprints that increase
recovery factors for low-mobility oil such as heavy oil, oil sands, viscous oil, tight oil, and oil shale. We consoli-
dated the contents and honed the themes through many discussions with subject matter experts during an SPE
forum titled Low Carbon Intensity Processes for Low-Mobility Oil Recovery that was held 27 July1 August
2014 in Newport Beach, California.
Now, years after conceptualizing a new volume, we are happy to present this book to you. We believe that this
new monograph, in combination with Prats classic work, provides a comprehensive treatment of the thermal
and nonthermal options available to engineers and geoscientists who tackle the difficult problem of converting
unconventional resources to reserves. We find great promise for enhanced recovery with a reduced environmental
footprint using polymer solutions, activation of solution gas drive and waterflood recovery mechanisms through
selective periods of voidage replacement ratio less than unity, steam foam, and in-situ combustion, among other
We present the state-of-the-art in technologies associated with recovering hydrocarbons from unconventional
reservoirs. Importantly, we have strived to be both broad and deep in our analysis. The references cited are our
best effort in linking the topics to their source; however, like many other publications, you may find some short-
comings in our first edition. In such cases, your feedback is very important to us in shaping future versions of this
Many people helped us during this time to ensure that this book is of high quality and that the standards asso-
ciated with SPE monographs were met. We are especially indebted to Dr. Johan van Dorp, principal technical
expert for Shell Oil Company, who reviewed Chapters 1 through 10 and wrote the Preface to this book. Also,
Dr. Lilian Lo, formerly with ConocoPhillips, and Dr. Louis Castanier, Stanford University, who collectively
reviewed Chapters 1 through 10. Dr. Besak Kurtoglu, formerly with Marathon, reviewed Chapter 11. Professor
Mojdeh Delshad from The University of Texas at Austin was our SPE contact, champion, and the final reviewer
of our work. We sincerely acknowledge all of the feedback and encouragement they provided. Finally, a great
thank you to our families who patiently endured many hours of separation from us and their encouragement that
helped us to finish this project.

Reza Fassihi
Tony Kovscek

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About the authors
Mohammad Reza Fassihi is a distinguished advisor with BHP Petroleum in Houston, where he is responsible
for subsurface technical assurance on global projects. Before his current assignment, he was the unconventional
technology manager with BP. Fassihi has more than 35 years of experience in petroleum research and develop-
ment, as well as field application of reservoir management best practices. He has a broad experience of design,
plan, and execution of waterflood and enhanced-oil-recovery (EOR) projects. Fassihi has authored or coauthored
more than 40 papers in reservoir simulation, thermal recovery, special core analysis laboratory (SCAL) meth-
odology and integration, well testing, reserves estimation, depletion planning, surveillance, and unconventional
resource development. He holds a BS degree in general engineering from Abadan Institute of Technology, and an
MS degree in chemical engineering and a PhD degree in petroleum engineering, both from Stanford University.
Fassihi is an SPE member, associate editor of SPE Journal, a member of the SPE Editorial Review Committee,
and a member of the SPE/DOE IOR Symposium Technical Committee. He has been a member of the steering
committee for many SPE forums and was an SPE Distinguished Lecturer in 2003.

Tony Kovscek is the Keleen and Carlton Beal Professor ofEnergy Resources Engineeringat Stanford Univer-
sity, where he joined the faculty in 1996 as an assistant professor. Kovscek advanced to associate professor and
received tenure in 2003. Currently, he is chair of the Energy Resources Engineering Department. Kovscek holds
BS and PhD degrees in chemical engineering from the University of Washington and University of California
at Berkeley, respectively. To date, he has authored or coauthored more than 125 peer-reviewed publications and
roughly 120 SPE meeting proceedings manuscripts. His publications report on studies of enhanced recovery pro-
cesses for unconventional resources including hydrocarbons such as shale and heavy oil in tight media. Kovscek
and his research group apply advanced, nondestructive imaging techniques to understand complex multiphase
flows of gas, water, and oil in porous media. He has been honored with the 2015 SPE Lester C. Uren Award and
the 2006 SPE Distinguished Achievement Award for Faculty. Additionally, Kovscek received the Stanford School
of Earth Sciences Award for Excellence in Teaching in 1997, the SPE Western North America Region Technical
Achievement Award in 2005, and he was the inaugural Global Climate and Energy Project (GCEP) Distinguished
Lecturer in Carbon Sequestration in 2008. From 2009 to 2012, he served as the executive editor of SPE Journal,
and he has served on the SPE Editorial Review Committee in some fashion continuously since 2000.

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This monograph [Low-Energy Processes for Unconventional Oil Recovery] is the first book after Thermal
Recovery Monograph by Michael Prats published in 1982 that provides up to date and comprehensive discussions
on thermal and non-thermal recovery methods of heavy/unconventional oil resources. The book has an emphasis
on environmental challenges concerning the production of unconventional oil. Several cold recovery methods
of chemical flooding, air injection are discussed in addition to nuclear, solar and electrical means of insitu oil
upgrading. I am certain this book will be very popular as a ref. for professional engineers and a text book for
undergraduate/graduate students. Mojdeh Delshad, research professor at PGE department at University of
Texas, Austin
Heavy oil and unconventional oil recovery is increasingly under scrutiny by society because of the high energy
intensity. Low-Energy Processes for Unconventional Oil Recovery is a must-read for petroleum engineers aim-
ing to select and engineer the most efficient Enhanced Oil Recovery (EOR) technology. Technical aspects are
covered in-depth on a broad range of EOR processes, together with clear and accurate guidance to evaluate CO2
footprints. Johan Van Dorp, consultant Enske Energy B.V., former RE consultant, Thermal EOR principal
expert, Shell

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Low-Energy Processes for Unconventional Oil Recovery fills a gap in the oil and gas literature. Today in our glo-
balized society, the oil industry has to demonstrate how oil recovery can be done responsibly over the life-cycle of
the project, clearly articulating the energy efficiency as well as carbon dioxide (CO2) and environmental footprints
of the chosen recovery processes. There is no silver bullet solution, and Industry, Academia, and Governments
must collaborate to pursue avenues to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by improving energy efficiency
from well to wheels. The produced CO2 can also be sequestered, but the evaluation of carbon capture and
storage requires careful analysis of the additional CO2 budgets and total energy balances.
World unconventional and heavy-oil production amounts to some 10 million B/D or almost 10% of global oil
supply. Two million B/D of this is produced by means of steam injection processes using either cyclic steam
stimulation, steamdrive or steamflood, or steam-assisted gravity drainage (SAGD). Many projects are on the
drawing board, but need improved energy efficiency and lower CO2 footprint to enable project sanction.
The subject has been under much research and development over the last decade and is still undergoing many
developments. As such, this monograph by Reza Fassihi and Anthony (Tony) Kovscek presents a state-of-the-art
analysis. Both authors have published extensively on a broad range of enhanced-oil-recovery (EOR) subjects and
are recognized as experts in the subjects covered.
Dr. Fassihi is a distinguished advisor with BHP Petroleum in Houston and is responsible for subsurface techni-
cal assurance on global projects. Before this, he was the unconventional technology manager with BP. He has more
than 35 years of experience in petroleum research, development and reservoir management, including waterflood
and EOR projects. He has authored/co-authored more than 40 peer-reviewed papers on a broad range of petroleum
engineering and research topics. He holds a PhD degree in petroleum engineering from Stanford University.
Dr. Kovscek is a professor at Stanford University since 1996 and is the Keleen and Carlton Beal Professor as
well as the current chair of the Energy Resources Department. His PhD research was in chemical engineering
at the University of California at Berkeley. He has authored more than 125 peer-reviewed publications, mainly
focusing on enhanced-recovery processes for unconventional resources.
The authors bring together their complementing expertise to provide the reader with an in-depth discussion of
a range of alternative recovery techniques. Most recovery methods are focused on heavy-oil recovery, but some
have applications in light oil reservoirs as well. With the recent industry drive and focus to recover hydrocarbons
from tight rock and shale resources, a chapter has also been devoted to shale oil recovery to be fully aligned with
the scope of this book.
The following is a brief outline of the topics covered:

Chapter 1 discusses the challenges of heavy-oil production. Worldwide occurrence of unconventional

resources is presented by category and the importance of oil mobility is explained. A range of recovery
technologies is introduced, and examples are provided of energy efficiency and CO2 emissions.
Chapter 2 describes technical aspects of the oil extraction methods that can be applied in unconventional oil
recovery. Amongst others, it includes primary recovery, steam-based processes, polymer flooding, solvent
injection, and air injection. Screening tools are provided.
Chapter 3 is devoted to fluid and rock properties, including thermal properties and wettability. The role of
oil-phase constituents and the complexity of reservoir fluid characterization are explained in detail. Several
useful correlations are provided.
Chapter 4 provides primary heavy-oil recovery tools with cold heavy-oil production. It includes a discus-
sion on cold heavy-oil production with sand (CHOPS) and describes the importance of foamy oil behavior.
Several CHOPS case studies are presented.
Waterflooding and its derivatives, such as polymer flooding, are the subject of Chapter 5. The importance of
these techniques is growing with polymer flooding being applied within ever greater oil viscosity reservoirs

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with tuned injection schedules. The viscosity reducing potential of emulsions in aqueous flooding tech-
niques is also described. The chapter is concluded with a discussion on CO2 water-alternating-gas (WAG).
Chapter 6 builds on Prats monograph on thermal recovery and Butlers work on SAGD with a thorough
treatment of steam injection and enhancements with steam additives. Energy efficiency and CO2 emissions
are calculated, and the improvement potential of solvent addition to steam in terms of recovery and energy
efficiency is described. Recent field cases with solvent or diluent addition to steam are provided.
Chapter 7 provides the reader with an in-depth and state-of-the-art description of air-injection techniques. It
includes heavy-oil in-situ combustion and high-pressure air injection; the latter is focused on lighter oils in
tight reservoirs. Oxidation kinetics and the different oxidation and cracking regimes are discussed in detail,
together with laboratory techniques and field examples. The importance of selection of the right reservoirs
for air injection is emphasized, with screening and forecasting tools provided. The modeling challenge is
also discussed and calculation of energy efficiency and GHG emission is included. Associated field experi-
ence is described with several relevant cases, and important safety and operational aspects are clarified in
Alternative sources to heat the reservoir are introduced in Chapter 8. External heat sources, such as nuclear
energy or solar heating, as well as in-situ techniques with electromagnetic heating and in-situ upgrading are
presented. Energy efficiencies are compared and improvement options provided.
In Chapter 9, important reservoir simulation challenges are covered. In a thorough discussion, complex
aspects of reservoir simulation are explained in an easy to understand manner, and the intricacies in applica-
tion to the complex recovery techniques that are discussed in this book are elaborated upon.
Chapter 10 informs the reader about process facilities and operation as well as integration aspects. Impor-
tant surface-facility technologies are presented with their operational parameters. The impact of the choice
of the process on the energy balance and emissions is of course also covered.
Chapter 11 describes the unconventional shale resources in terms of reservoir characterization, production
mechanisms, and methods of enhancing liquid-rich shale oil recovery. Many methods discussed here are
at a research phase and, hence, their field applicability is still uncertain. But, operators are working toward
maturing these technologies.

I consider this publication as a significant contribution to the petroleum industry and recommend its use as a
professional reference to help guide EOR project design and as a training tool for petroleum engineering schools.

Assen, The Netherlands

Johan van Dorp,
Shell Group principal technical expert for thermal EOR (20082016)

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Table of Contents
Preface v
Introduction xi
Chapter 1 The Challenges of Unconventional Oil Recovery 1
1.1Overview 1
1.1.1 Unconventional Hydrocarbons 1
1.1.2 Unconventional Oil Resource Base 2
1.1.3 Natural Bitumen and Extra-Heavy Oil 4
1.1.4 Oil Shale 4
1.1.5 Problems With Unconventional Oil 5
1.1.6 Development Planning 8
1.1.7 Technology Landscape for Heavy-Oil and Bitumen Production 9
1.1.8 Effectiveness of Current Depletion Technologies 11
1.1.9 Integrated Approach to Heavy-Oil Production 11
1.1.10 Monograph Summary 11
Chapter 2 Unconventional Oil Recovery Methods 13
2.1Introduction 13
2.2 Primary Recovery 13
2.3 Enhanced Oil Recovery 15
2.3.1Steam 15
2.3.2 Thermal Recovery Mechanisms 19
2.3.3 Polymer Floods 23
2.3.4 Solvent Injection 23
2.3.5 Other methods 24
2.4 Recovery Sequencing 24
2.5 Resource Screening 24
2.5.1 Thermal Recovery 25
2.5.2 Steam Injection 25
2.5.3 Air Injection 26
2.5.4Application 27
Chapter 3 Fluid and Rock Properties  29
3.1Introduction 29
3.2 Oil-Phase Properties 29
3.2.1 What Makes a Heavy Oil So Viscous? 29
3.2.2 The Role of Solution Gas 31
3.2.3 The Role of Asphaltenes and Maltenes 32
3.2.4 The Role of Organic Acids and Bases 32
3.2.5 Oil Shale Properties 34
3.3 Oil-Phase Characterization 34
3.3.1 Crude-Oil Description 35
3.3.2 Estimation of the Steam Distillation Yield 36
3.3.3 Comparison With the Published Results 38
3.3.4 Calculation of the Molecular Weight of the Distillate 41
3.3.5 Effect of Steam Distillation Efficiency 42

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3.4 Rock Properties 45

3.4.1 Volumetric Heat Capacity 45
3.4.2 Thermal Conductivity 46
3.4.3 Porosity and Permeability 47
3.5 The Role of Wettability 47
3.6 The Role of Mineral Solubility 48
3.7 Other Properties 49
Chapter 4 Cold Heavy-Oil Production  51
4.1Introduction 51
4.2 Cold Heavy-Oil Production Mechanisms 51
4.3 Production Behavior in Cold Heavy-Oil Production With Sand 55
4.4 The SuperSump Concept 56
4.5 Cold Heavy-Oil Production With SandCase Studies 58
4.5.1Kuwait 58
4.5.2Alaska 58
4.5.3Sudan 60
4.6 Cold Heavy-Oil Production With Sand Modeling 61
4.7 Cold Heavy-Oil Production Optimization 63
Chapter 5 Cold Enhanced Recovery  67
5.1 Waterflooding Heavy- and Viscous-Oil Reservoirs 67
5.1.1 Mobility Ratio Effects 67
5.1.2 Viscous Instability 68
5.1.3 Fractional Flow Calculations 69
5.1.4 Viscous-Oil Analog Fields 70
5.2 Polymer Flooding 71
5.2.1 Polymer Displacement Efficiency 75
5.2.2 Screening Criteria for Polymer Flooding 78
5.2.3 Field Application of Polymer Flooding 78
5.3 Emulsion Flooding 80
5.4 Gas or Water-Alternating-Gas Injection 83
5.4.1 Screening Criteria for CO2 Injection 85
5.5 Voidage-Replacement Ratio 86
Chapter 6 Enhanced Steam Injection  89
6.1 Cyclic Steam and Steamflooding 89
6.1.1 Wellbore Heat Losses 89
6.1.2 Carbon Intensity 90
6.2 Steam Foam 91
6.3 Steam-Assisted Gravity Drainage 93
6.3.1 Mathematical Derivation 93
6.3.2 Factors Affecting SAGD Performance 94
6.3.3 Surveillance Techniques 97
6.3.4 SAGD Optimization 98
6.3.5 Numerical Modeling of SAGD With Solvents 109
6.4 Steam-Assisted Gravity Drainage With Noncondensible Gas 113
6.4.1 SAGD Optimization With Air Injection 113
6.5 Solvent-Based Recovery Processes 114
6.5.1 Vapor Extraction 114
6.5.2Nsolv 114
Chapter 7 Enhanced Air Injection  117
7.1Introduction 117
7.2 The Benefits of Air Injection 118
7.3 Process Mechanisms 119
7.3.1 In-Situ Combustion 119
7.3.2 High-Pressure Air Injection 120
7.3.3 Fuel Combustion 120
7.3.4 Thermal Alteration 121

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Table of Contents xv

7.3.5 Low-Temperature Oxidation 122

7.3.6 Steam Distillation and Light-Oil Stripping 124
7.3.7 Application to Light Oil 125
7.3.8 Spontaneous Ignition 126
7.3.9 Impact of Pressure on Displacement Mechanisms 126
7.4 Process Implementation 127
7.4.1Screening 127
7.4.2 Engineering Estimation 128
7.4.3 Laboratory Experimentation 131
7.4.4 Fluid Characterization 134
7.5 Numerical Modeling 136
7.5.1 Reaction Model 136
7.5.2 Simulation of Combustion-Tube Runs 138
7.5.3 Simulation Results 138
7.5.4 Scaling the Combustion-Tube Results 139
7.6 Economic Feasibility 139
7.7 Pilot Testing 140
7.8 Field Applications 141
7.8.1 Design Features of Canadian ISC Projects 141
7.8.2 Injection Schemes 142
7.8.3 Suplacu de Barcau Field, Romania 143
7.8.4 Balol and Santhol Fields, India 143
7.8.5 Hybrid Processes 144
7.8.6 Post-Cold-Heavy-Oil-Production-With-Sand and Post-SAGD Combustion 144
7.8.7 In-Situ Upgrading 145
7.9 Air Injection in Light-Oil Reservoirs 145
7.9.1 High-Pressure Air Injection 146
7.9.2 Enriched-Air Injection 148
7.9.3 Cyclic Combustion 148
7.9.4 Other Fields 149
7.10 Process Characteristics and Monitoring 149
7.11 Performance Estimation 150
7.11.1 Nelson and McNeil Methodology 150
7.11.2 Gates-Ramey Correlation 150
7.12 Field Case Histories 152
7.12.1 Medicine Pole Hills Unit Air Injection Project 152
7.12.2 West Hackberry Air Injection Project 154
7.12.3 Morgan Pressure Cycling In-Situ Combustion Project 158
7.12.4 Holt Sand Unit Oxygen Injection 163
7.13 Environmental Considerations 172
7.13.1 Thermal Efficiency 172
7.13.2CO2 Production 173
7.13.3CO2 Sequestration 173
7.13.4 Larger Applicability 173
7.14 Promising Research Potential 174
7.15Conclusions 174
Chapter 8 Alternative Sources for Heating Reservoirs  175
8.1 Nuclear Energy 175
8.1.1 Economic and Cost Issues 176
8.1.2 Public Perception of Nuclear Energy 176
8.2 Solar Thermal Enhanced Oil Recovery 177
8.3 Downhole Heating 180
8.4 In-Situ Upgrading 183
8.4.1 In-Situ Conversion Process 183
8.4.2ElectrofracTM Process 184
8.4.3 Conduction, Convection, and Reflex Process 185

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xvi Table of Contents

8.5 Electromagnetic Heating 185

8.5.1 Energy Equivalence 185
8.5.2 Methods for Field Application 186
8.5.3 Analytical Modeling of Electromagnetic Heating Process 187
8.6 How To Increase the Energy Efficiency of New Processes 189
Chapter 9 Challenges in Reservoir Simulation of Unconventional Technologies  191
9.1Introduction 191
9.2 Mass and Heat Transport 191
9.2.1 Auxiliary Relationships 193
9.2.2 Stiffness and Grid-Size Limitations 194
9.3 Inclusion of Geomechanics 195
9.3.1 Decoupled Flow and Geomechanics 196
9.3.2 Explicitly Coupled Flow 196
9.3.3 Iteratively Coupled Flow 196
9.3.4 Fully Coupled Flow 197
9.4 Designing the Simulation Model 197
9.4.1 Number of Dimensions 198
9.4.2 Selection of Pseudocomponents 199
9.5 Simulating Processes for Unconventional Systems 199
9.5.1 Chemical Flooding 199
9.5.2 In-Situ Combustion 200
9.5.3 Steam Injection 201
9.5.4 Steam-Assisted-Gravity-Drainage Simulation 203
9.5.5 Cold Heavy-Oil Production With Sand 203
9.5.6 Electromagnetic Heating Simulation 204
9.6 History Matching 205
Chapter 10 Facilities and Operations  207
10.1Introduction 207
10.2 Processing Technology Challenges 207
10.3 Steam Generation, Delivery, and Transportation 208
10.4 Water Supply and Treatment for Steam Generation 210
10.5CO2 Sequestration and Management 210
10.5.1 Life-Cycle Emissions 210
10.6 Gathering Systems and Export Pipelines 211
10.6.1 Oil/Water Separation 213
10.7 Surface Sand Management 213
10.8 Air and Gas Compression 215
10.8.1 Explosion in the Reservoir 216
10.8.2 Explosion in the Surface Facilities and Injection Wellbores 216
10.8.3 Explosions in Injection/Production Wells 217
10.8.4 Oxygen Flammability 217
10.8.5 Oxygen Compatibility 217
10.8.6 Corrosion From Oxygen 218
10.8.7 Corrosion From CO2 218
10.9 Field Experience With High-Pressure Air Compressors 218
10.9.1 Medicine Pole Hills Unit, Bowman, North Dakota 218
10.9.2 Sloss, Nebraska 218
10.9.3 Heidelberg, Mississippi 218
10.9.4 Mitigating the Safety Risks 219
10.9.5 Required Surveillance 219
10.9.6 Ignition Issues 220
10.9.7 Compression Equipment 221
10.10 Integrated Developments 222
10.11Upgrading 223
10.11.1 Sulfur and Coke Coproducts 225
10.11.2 Conversion Landscape 225
10.11.3 Upgrading Practices 225

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Table of Contents xvii

10.11.4 Secondary Upgrading Process 225

10.11.5 Integration Technologies 225
10.11.6 In-Field Heavy-Oil Upgrading 225
10.11.7 Refining Challenges 225
Chapter 11 Shale Oil Recovery  227
11.1 Nanopore System 227
11.2 Shale Fluid Properties 231
11.3 Proposed Enhanced-Oil-Recovery Methods 232
11.3.1 Gas Injection in Fractured Tight Rocks 233
11.3.2 Use of CO2 Thickeners for Improved Hydraulic Fracturing With Liquid CO2 236
11.3.3 Chemical Injection 237
11.3.4 Steam or Air Injection 237
11.3.5 Surfactant Imbibition 237
11.4Summary 237
Nomenclature  239
References  243
Appendix A Calculation of Steam Distillation Yield  267
Appendix B Example Problems  273
Appendix C Reservoir Modeling Checklist  279
Index 283

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Chapter 1

The Challenges of Unconventional

Oil Recovery

Thermal recovery is the principal enhanced-oil-recovery (EOR) technique currently in use to recover extra heavy,
heavy, and viscous crude oil (Prats 1982; Butler 1991). As crude-oil temperature increases, crude-oil viscosity
decreases dramatically, thereby thinning heavy crude oil and improving its fluidity and mobility within the res-
ervoir. In addition, thermal recovery is emerging as a technique to release oil held in the matrix of fractured and/
or dual-porosity media such as diatomite (Kumar and Beatty 1995; Kovscek et al. 1997; Murer et al. 2000) and
carbonate (van Wunnik and Wit 1992; Boukadi et al. 2007; Novak et al. 2007; Brown et al. 2011; Gross et al.
2011). In fractured settings, heat penetrates the matrix by conduction even if steam cannot enter because of capil-
larity. Accordingly, oil recovery is enhanced because heat sweeps the portions of the reservoir never contacted by
injectant. In this sense, thermal recovery is unique in that oil recovery is enhanced even if not contacted directly
by the injected fluid.
In most thermal recovery projects, saturated steam is the injectant of choice, although air is an interesting alter-
native. Also, some projects propose to add solvents to injected steam. The solvent reduces the vapor pressure and
saturation temperature of the steam, potentially providing energy savings as a result of savings in steam injection
rate. The solvent is also miscible in crude oil and provides additional viscosity and density reduction. In addi-
tion, to control the steam mobility in heterogenous reservoirs, foam has been added to steam in several field tests.
A comprehensive analysis of steam-foam field tests indicated that steam-foam injection is most efficient in lay-
ered reservoirs (Patzek 1996; Delamaide and Kalaydjian 1996). The incremental recovery attributed to injection
of surfactant to steam was an average of 3.9 bbl of oil per kg of injected surfactant.
Since the publication of the Thermal Recovery monograph by Michael Prats (1982), technology has expanded
considerably, thereby extending classical thermal recovery techniques into more and more complex situations.
For example, the drilling of horizontal wells has expanded the utility of oil drainage under the action of gravity,
and steam-assisted gravity drainage (SAGD) has come into existence. In addition, air injection into reservoirs of
lighter oil has been tested and shown to be successful. On the other hand, environmental challenges associated
with emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) to the atmosphere have made the application of low(er)-energy thermal
methods and cold production more desirable to shrink the so-called carbon footprint of viscous and thermal oil
This monograph is intended to be a complement to Prats book and aims to provide updates regarding thermal
applications. Because the physics of reservoir heating, heat losses to the overburden, and the phase behavior of
water have remained unchanged, the reader interested in an in-depth treatment of such topics is referred to Prats
(1982). What follows is a description of the unconventional oil resource base and its categorization by gravity
and in-situ viscosity. The engineering and environmental challenges to produce this vast resource thereby become

1.1.1 Unconventional Hydrocarbons. Unconventional resources are categorized, as shown in Fig. 1.1, according
to resource net energy density and technical maturity. The estimated resource size for each category, including
conventional oil, is shown in Fig. 1.2. The initials UCG stand for underground coal gasification, a process for
converting solid coal to combustible gases, such as methane, in the earth without mining the coal. The initials

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2 Low-Energy Processes for Unconventional Oil Recovery

Heavy Oil

Energy Density
Shale Shale

Gas Tight
Gas Sour
Technical Maturity

Fig. 1.1Unconventional resources categories.


1,080 3,000 Produced


2,600 11,300 Remaining

Heavy Oil 10,000 CBM 1,000

Shale Oil 500 Tight Gas 2,000


Oil Shale 5,000 Shale Gas 1,000


Bitumen 3,000 Coal UCG 5,000+


Extra-Heavy Oil 2,000 Hydrates 5,000+

Oil (billion bbl) Gas (TCF)

Fig. 1.2Estimated in-place volume of unconventional resources.


CBM refer to coalbed methane and its recovery from coal seams. Tight gas and shale gas refer to gas resources
in millidarcy- and nanodarcy-permeability rocks, respectively. The terms oil shale and shale oil also need
to be clarified. Oil shale refers to fine-grained sedimentary rock containing kerogen. The latter is a mixture of
organic chemical compounds that make up a portion of the organic matter in sedimentary rocks. Upon heating,
chemical reactions within the kerogen result in the formation of a liquid oil and gas. The rate of heating is impor-
tant in determining the gravity of the oil produced as well as the fraction of liquid created vs. gas. Shale oil refers
to the liquid hydrocarbon that is held in tight shale matrices and is currently producible through the application
of hydraulic fracturing. Shale oil is generally conventional oil held in nanodarcy-permeability rocks. Throughout
this monograph, oil shale and shale oil are used with these distinct meanings.
This monograph specifically deals with recovery of bitumen, heavy oil, and oil shale. Shale oil and shale gas
recovery are discussed in Chapter 11. Coals and hydrates are not discussed.

1.1.2 Unconventional Oil Resource Base. Density, or API gravity,* is the key distinguisher of different classes
of unconventional oils. The term heavy is applied to any crude oil at 22.3 API or less with a viscosity greater
than 100 cp. If the crude oil is 10 API or less and its viscosity is greater than 10,000 cp, it is referred to as extra

API gravity is defined as API = 131.5 , where SG is the specific gravity, that is, the ratio of crude oil to water density.

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The Challenges of Unconventional Oil Recovery 3

Heavy-Oil Classifications

1,000,000 Tar and
Very Bitumen

More Difficulty Producing

Live Reservoir Oil
100,000 Viscous

Viscosity (cp)
Conv. Extra
Heavy heavy
1,000 Oil
100 Oil

30 25 20 15 10 5 0

API Gravity

More Difficulty Refining

Minable hydrocarbons Athabasca, Canada

Very viscousnot waterfloodable, no cold flow Ugnu, Alaska
Very viscousnot waterfloodable, cold flow Cerro Negro, Venezuela
Viscous oilswaterfloodable Schrader Bluff, Alaska

Fig. 1.3Classification of unconventional crude oils.

heavy because the crude is denser than water. Natural bitumen is oil having a viscosity greater than 10,000 cp and
an API gravity less than 7 API. In comparison, conventional crude oils such as Brent or West Texas Intermediate
have gravities from 38 to 40 API (Alboudwarej et al. 2006). Low-gravity crude oils are generally more difficult
to refine because they contain large concentrations of high-molecular-weight components, heavy metals, sulfur,
and so on. It is crude-oil viscosity, however, that makes these oils challenging to produce because well productiv-
ity is inversely proportional to crude-oil viscosity. Fig. 1.3 shows this relationship for some of the typical heavy
and viscous oils.
Generally, these unconventional oils are not good candidates for waterflooding because of their large in-situ
viscosity at initial reservoir temperature. An appropriate recovery process (steam injection, in-situ combustion,
polymer, solvent EOR, and so on) is needed to improve their poor primary-recovery efficiency (see below).
In contrast, viscous oil is being developed through extended horizontal drilling and multilaterals to provide
acceptable production rates. Some pressure maintenance is required and is often provided by water injection,
again often using nonconventional well configurations. Waterflood performance differs from that in conventional
applications owing to the adverse mobility ratio and the interaction with unconsolidated shallow sands. Thus, to
improve the sweep efficiency, polymer flooding has become a key low-cost, low-energy technique for heavy and
viscous crude oil between 10 and 1,000 cp at reservoir conditions in fields such as Daqing in China, Marmul in
Oman, and Pelican Lake/Brintnel in Canada.
For most offshore reservoirs, the heavy-oil definition is applied to more-intermediate-gravity oil. An example
is shown in Fig. 1.4, where heavy-oil fields in the UK Continental Shelf are displayed. The lines on this graph
represent equivalent productivity.
As discussed by Alboudwarej et al. (2006), unconventional crude-oil resources are generally found in shal-
low deposits trapped on the flanks of huge depressions known as foreland basins. Because of the lack of sealing
caprocks, microorganisms react with the crude oil and change its properties. Over geological time, through bio-
degradation, the light- and medium-density hydrocarbon components are converted into methane and heavy oil.
The latter has a greater density, viscosity, and acidity and often includes heteroatoms such as nitrogen, oxygen,
sulfur, and heavy metals. Other mechanisms such as water washing and phase fractionation also participate in this
process (Alboudwarej et al. 2006). Water washing refers to the dissolution of light and medium components into
aquifers, thereby leaving oil with increased density.
In general, unconventional crude oils are challenging to produce with existing technologies. Also, once
produced, they are price disadvantaged because considerable processing is required to refine them into fuels.
The composition of unconventional oil depends on the degree of biodegradation of each resource.

BK-SPE-LOW-ENERGY-170161.indb 3 14/07/17 8:20 PM

4 Low-Energy Processes for Unconventional Oil Recovery

Mariner (H)

100 Mariner (M) 50,000

Captain mdft/cp

Oil Viscosity (cp)

10 Gannet E
mdft/cp Alba, Harding,

Light Oil

10,000 100,000 1,000,000 10,000,000

Permeability-Thickness (md-ft)

Fig. 1.4Viscosity vs. permeability-thickness product for heavy-oil fields in

the UK Continental Shelf (Jayasekera and Goodyear 2000).

Heavy oil, extra-heavy oil, and bitumen make up approximately 70% of the worlds total oil resources of 913
trillion bbl (Alboudwarej et al. 2006). The resource sizes of bitumen, extra heavy oil, and other heavy oil are
approximately 3.2, 2.5, and 0.9 trillion bbl, respectively (see Table 1.1). Because of large production costs, how-
ever, use of most of these resources heavily depends on crude-oil price. Fig. 1.5 displays this interdependency for
different unconventional oils.

1.1.3 Natural Bitumen and Extra-Heavy Oil. There are numerous natural bitumen and extra-heavy-oil deposits
in the world. If produced on a massive scale, they are likely to be competitive with conventional oil in terms of
cost. A major factor is mitigation of negative environmental impacts, the costs of which have not been completely
Natural Bitumen. According to the 2010 World Energy Council (WEC) report, natural bitumen is reported in
598 deposits in 23 countries. It occurs in both clastic and carbonate reservoir rocks and commonly in small depos-
its at, or near, the Earths surface. The three Alberta, Canada, oil sands areasAthabasca, Peace River, and Cold
Laketogether contain 1.73 trillion bbl of discovered bitumen in place, representing two-thirds of world supply
(WEC 2010). In addition, the Grosmont carbonate platform in Alberta contains approximately 450 billion bbl.
Other locations with large volumes of bitumen are Kazakhstan, mostly in the North Caspian Basin, and Russia,
mostly in the Timan-Pechora and Volga-Ural Basins. Although many more deposits are identified worldwide as
evidenced by oil seepages, no resource estimates are reported.
Extra-Heavy Oil. Table 1.1 presents the geographical distribution of extra-heavy-oil deposits in the world. The
Orinoco Belt in the Eastern Venezuela Basin accounts for approximately 90% of the discovered plus prospective
extra-heavy oil in place, or nearly 1.9 trillion bbl. Extra-heavy-oil production accounts for more than 20% of
Venezuelas oil production. Extra-heavy crude oil is deposited either as a standalone or accumulation with con-
ventional oil.
In total, Table 1.1 shows an extra-heavy-oil and bitumen volume of approximately 5.5 trillion bbl discovered in
place. This volume is slightly less but of the same order of magnitude as the estimated volume of original oil
in place in the worlds known conventional oil fields (WEC 2010).

1.1.4 Oil Shale. Table 1.1 shows that total world resources of oil shale are at approximately 5.5 trillion bbl
of crude-oil equivalent. Oil shales ranging in age from Cambrian to Tertiary occur in many parts of the world.
The deposits range from small occurrences to many billions of barrels of potentially extractable shale oil. Fig. 1.6
shows the location of major oil shale deposits in the world (Allix et al. 2011).
Most oil shales are fine-grained sedimentary rocks containing relatively large amounts of organic matter, known
as kerogen, from which significant amounts of oil and combustible gas can be extracted by pyrolysis. Kerogen
forms a complex macromolecular structure that is mostly composed of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen, and small
amounts of sulfur and nitrogen. Kerogen is mixed with varied amounts of mineral matter consisting of fine-
grained silicate and carbonate minerals. It is insoluble in common organic solvents. Some oil shale may contain

BK-SPE-LOW-ENERGY-170161.indb 4 14/07/17 8:20 PM

The Challenges of Unconventional Oil Recovery 5

Resources Reserves Cumulative Production

(billion bbl) (billion bbl) (billion bbl)
Extra-Heavy Oila
Latin America (mostly Venezuela) 2,448 59 15
Asia 18 1.7 0.9
Others 19 1.7 1.4
World 2,484 63 17

Natural Bitumena

North America (mostly Canada) 2,451 174 6

Asia 427 42 0
Europe 349 29 0

Africad 18 1.8 0

World 3,245 246.8 6

Oil Shalec 2,008 mb/de

North Americab (mostly USA) 4,280 NA 0

Africa 159 NA 0
Europe 368 NA 6.3
Asia and Middle East 637 NA 7.6
Others 114 3.8
World 5,558 17.7

Shale Oilf

Brazil 82 NA
Congo 100 NA
Russia 247 NA
China 354 NA
USA 3,707 NA
World 4,786
a. Energy Technology Systems Analysis Programme (2010)
b. Johnson et al. (2011)
c. Beckwith (2012)
d. Meyer et al. (2007)
e. World Energy Council (WEC) (2010)
f. World Energy Council (WEC) (2013)

Table 1.1Unconventional oil resources, reserves, and production.

small amounts of bitumen. Because of its insolubility, the organic matter should be retorted at temperatures of
approximately 340C to decompose it into a synthetic crude oil and gas (WEC 2010).

1.1.5 Problems With Unconventional Oil. Unlike conventional oil reservoirs where oil generally flows easily,
the low oil mobility in extra-heavy oil, bitumen, and oil shale prevents application of established displacement
recovery processes to such reservoirs. The main issue is the impact of unfavorable water/oil or gas/oil mobility
ratio on poor oil recovery. Thermal methods are useful as a means of lowering the in-situ viscosity of crude oil
and enhancing the mobility of the oil. Other methods have also been applied with some degree of success with a
low-to-moderate recovery factor. These processes are discussed in the next chapter.
There is increased sensitivity concerning environmental impacts of energy-intense recovery techniques,
including the great need to reduce the carbon, water, and ground-surface-access footprint. The lengthy chain of
(1) source water (shallow aquifer or river), (2) sweetening and softening, (3) steam generation and transportation,
(4) produced-water treatment, and (5) water disposal (deep aquifers) has emerged as one of the key issues in many

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6 Low-Energy Processes for Unconventional Oil Recovery



Production Cost (USD/bbl)

80 Conventional Oil

60 Shale
50 Venezuelan
Heavy Oil Oil Sands

30 Other FSU

20 Other OPEC Conventional

Oil Oil Sands
OPEC Middle East
10 Deepwater (mining)

0 20 40 60 80 100 120
Million bbl/D of Oil Equivalent

Fig. 1.5Transportation fuels supply curve in 2020 as a function of oil price

(courtesy of Booz Allen Hamilton).

United States (1) Russia (2)

2,085 247

Estonia (9)
Canada (11) 16
15 Italy (5)
France (12)
Israel (14) China (10)
Morocco (6)
4 16
53 Egypt (13) Jordan (7)
5.7 34
Brazil (4) Republic of
82 Congo (3)
Shale oil resource, 100
billion bbl
(global ranking) Australia (8)

Fig. 1.6World oil shale deposits (Allix et al. 2011).

An example of a technique that reduces all footprints is cold heavy-oil production with sand using multilateral
horizontal wells.
Environmental Challenges of Unconventional Oil Production. Kovscek (2012) extensively discussed envi-
ronmental issues associated with thermal recovery methods. A summary of key challenges follows.

Water for steam generation

Access to inexpensive and clean-burning fuel for generating steam
Energy intensity that increases life-cycle CO2 emissions
Air pollution
Public acceptance
Surface footprint (many wells at a dense spacing in steamdrives)

Water Management. The key metric for gauging the energy efficiency of steam injection as well as estimating
the water requirements is the oil/steam ratio (OSR) and its inverse the steam/oil ratio. The OSR is the volume

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The Challenges of Unconventional Oil Recovery 7

of oil produced per volume of steam injected. The steam volume, however, is recorded as condensed water at
standard conditions. Accordingly, for an OSR equal to 0.2, five volumes of water (as steam) are required to
produce a volume of oil. The range of OSR in field operations generally spans from 0.1 to 0.5, implying that the
water needed for steam EOR ranges from 10 to 2 volumes of water per volume of oil produced, respectively.
Clearly, these estimates of water use do not account for recycling and reuse (Kovscek 2012). Notice that the
energy-break-even OSR is approximately 0.08, irrespective of steam operating pressure and temperature, because
the steam enthalpy only weakly depends on temperature.
To date, the reported OSRs for steam-based thermal recovery projects in Alberta, Canada, have been somewhat
on the larger and more water-efficient side. Approximately 2.5 to 4 bbl of water are used for every barrel of bitu-
men produced (Government of Alberta 2012). Steamdrives in California generally have a lower OSR (0.150.3),
whereas soak projects generally have better OSR.
Differences in water requirements are related to the maturity of the project, the geology of the oil-sands deposit,
and so on. Oil-sands recovery operations have made active use of water recycling as well as substitution of nonpo-
table aquifer water to reduce volumes of fresh water needed. With recycle ratios of 70 to 90%, as little as 0.5 bbl of
fresh water is needed to produce 1.0 bbl of bitumen (Government of Alberta 2012). Given the scope of expansion
of oil-sands recovery operations, however, total water withdrawal from the Lower Athabasca River in Alberta has
become significant. The water withdrawal was 0.74% of the annual average flow in 2010 (Government of Alberta
2012). A water management framework has capped the available water for thermal operations. In total, all oil-
sands projects combined are allowed to withdraw no more than 3% of the average annual flow.
CO2 Emission. The most important aspect currently affecting thermal recovery seems to be the carbon foot-
print of heavy oil and thermal recovery compared with conventional recovery methods. This arises from the fuel
used to generate steam or to compress air for in-situ combustion. In addition, upgrading the crude oil adds to
the carbon footprint. Water treatment for steam generation can be as high as 1020% of the energy footprint.
Also, in in-situ combustion, the flue gas produced and vented dominates the CO2 emissions. Thus, greenhouse
gas (GHG) emissions depend on type of crude oil as well as specifics of the recovery process, specifics of steam
generation (if applicable), and so on. Fig. 1.7 presents a comparison of average emissions estimates for Cana-
dian bitumen, California thermal operations, and conventional oil production. This is based on full-cycle usage,
including the final refined products. As shown, generally the production-related GHG emissions are less than
the fuel emissions.
Using Californian crude as an example, Kovscek (2012) noted that equivalent CO2 life-cycle emissions, includ-
ing steam-based thermal recovery, upgrading, refining, distribution, and combustion of the resulting gasoline,
are at approximately 105 to 120 g of CO2/MJ of gasoline on a reformulated blendstock for oxygenate blending
(RBOB) and lower heating-value basis (Brandt and Unnasch 2010). This quantity includes cogeneration of heat
and electricity using natural gas and is typical of heavy-oil recovery in California. The portion of this total CO2

Canadian Bitumen (SAGD)

California Thermal (With

Emissions Credit) Steam Generation
Upgrading and Refining
Other Emissions
California Thermal
Transport (crude + gasoline)
Combustion of Gasoline

Conventional Crude

0 20 40 60 80 100 120 140

gCO2/MJ Gasoline RBOB

Fig. 1.7Greenhouse gas emissions from steam-based EOR compared with

conventional recovery (Kovscek 2012). Data from Brandt and Unnasch (2010); Brandt
(2012). Canadian bitumen estimates obtained using GHGenius (Brandt 2012).

BK-SPE-LOW-ENERGY-170161.indb 7 14/07/17 8:20 PM

8 Low-Energy Processes for Unconventional Oil Recovery

emission associated with the thermal recovery aspect using natural gas as the fuel is estimated as an average
23.8 g/MJ of gasoline RBOB after taking emissions credits for cogeneration (Brandt and Unnasch 2010). The
range of emissions stemming from steam generation is placed at 13.0 to 25.5 g/MJ gasoline RBOB and varies
mainly with OSR.
The Canadian thermal recovery operation is estimated to lie in a similar range, with equivalent life-cycle CO2
emissions of 100 to 130 g of CO2/MJ of gasoline RBOB (Brandt 2012). Of this figure, approximately 32% of the
equivalent CO2 emissions result from extraction using heat, upgrading, and refining. Bitumen is a lower-gravity
resource in comparison to heavy oil and is more difficult to produce.
For comparison, conventional oil-refinery feedstock when subjected to the same analysis has equivalent CO2
life-cycle emissions ranging from 85 to 105 g of CO2/MJ of gasoline RBOB (Brandt 2012). In this case, extrac-
tion, refining, and upgrading contribute only 17% of the emissions. Thus, the conventional case is about one-half
that of thermal recovery for these components.
Combustion of the fuel amounts, on average, to approximately 70 g of CO2/MJ of gasoline RBOB. In addition,
the energy content of gasoline is approximately 124 MJ/gal (US). Gasoline produced from oil recovered using
thermal recovery results in oilwell-to-gasoline-tank emissions of approximately 13.0 to 14.9 kg CO2/gal (28.6 to
32.8 lbm/gal). In contrast, conventionally produced crude oil emits 10.5 to 13.0 kg CO2/gal (23.3 to 28.7 lbm/
gal). Brandt and Unnasch (2010) characterize the benefits of cogeneration in terms of the electricity that is being
displaced from the electrical grid by the electricity produced in the oil field through cogeneration. If, for instance,
natural gas is used for cogeneration and coal-fired electricity is displaced, then the life-cycle emissions are esti-
mated as roughly 115 g of CO2/MJ of gasoline RBOB. Without cogeneration, the life-cycle assessment emissions
rise to 121 g of CO2/MJ of gasoline RBOB.
In summary, the combustion of fuel to generate steam for thermal oil recovery adds a significant component
to overall CO2 emissions. At present, most heat for thermal recovery is generated using natural gas that is the
least carbon-intense fossil fuel. Hence, substitution of other fossil fuels only increases the total CO2 emissions.
The process of cogeneration of electricity and steam is substantially more complicated in comparison with other
methods of steam generation but does result in substantial reduction in CO2 emissions.
Fuel and Air Pollution. The fuel used to fire any steam generator affects the carbon footprint of steam EOR as
well as the generation of other undesirable air pollutants (e.g., SOx, NOx, particulates). On the basis of energy
content per unit of CO2 generated, natural gas is the least-carbon-intense fuel, followed by lease crude oil. Coal
or petroleum coke as a boiler fuel produces approximately twice as much CO2 in comparison with natural gas. On
the other hand, natural-gas use creates the least amount of pollution. If, however, lease crude or petroleum coke
is used to fire a steam generator, flue gases may contain substantial sulfur in the form of SO2, SO3, and particu-
lates. Further, various standardized technologies are available to reduce emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx). The
sulfur oxides in flue gas are readily removed by passage through a wet scrubber that absorbs the sulfur oxides
and neutralizes the acid by reaction with alkaline components of the wet-scrubbing solution. Sarathi and Olsen
(1992) provide additional details. Therefore, the current practice of employing natural gas appears to be the most
environmentally friendly from a fossil-fuel-powered steam generator perspective. On the other hand, the petro-
leum coke produced from bitumen is low cost and insulates operations from variability in the cost of natural gas.
Public Acceptance. Potentially the greatest factor that may limit current and future thermal recovery operations
is public acceptance of the emissions increases relative to conventional and other alternative fuelsthat is, the
roughly 20 g CO2/gal increase outlined in the preceding subsection. Alternatives are available to mitigate some
aspects of the carbon footprint, as discussed in this monograph.
Other Challenges. Aside from environmental challenges, there are other factors to consider when developing
heavy oil. Some of these factors are included in the following list.

Limited reservoir energy gives a low primary-recovery factor.

There is unfavorable mobility for displacement processes.
Heterogeneities can dominate reservoir performance.

Conformance of injected fluids needs to be managed to obtain acceptable reservoir sweep.

Some low-energy EOR processes are still unproven.

Gravity helps sweep but gives small drainage rates.
If feeding an upgrader, one must produce crude oil on plateau rate to meet the capacity requirements of the

1.1.6 Development Planning. Unlike development of conventional reservoirs, the limitation on energy sup-
ply, production facilities, and reservoir access imposes a modest production plateau on development. Hence,
heavy oil and bitumen are produced over an extended period of time generally at or near a plateau rate, as shown

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The Challenges of Unconventional Oil Recovery 9

in Fig. 1.8. This is achieved by phasing in new patterns and projects over time, as represented by the different
colors, to combat the steep individual declines. In this way, an overall plateau rate is maintained for as long as
possible to keep facilities running at capacity. The steep decline in each phase is caused by poor pressure response
to the stimulated reservoir volume from the virgin sections of the reservoir.

1.1.7 Technology Landscape for Heavy-Oil and Bitumen Production. A full listing of the applicable tech-
nologies to produce unconventional resources is shown in Fig. 1.9. If the resource is sufficiently shallow, mining




Production (B/D)






















Fig. 1.8Typical heavy-oil development plan.

Fig. 1.9Production methods for unconventional resources.

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10 Low-Energy Processes for Unconventional Oil Recovery

through removal of the overburden is a possibility for resources with a large concentration of hydrocarbon per unit
volume of rock or sand. In-situ chemical transformation is especially attractive because it presents the possibility
to alter the chemical makeup of the hydrocarbon in such a way that the product is upgraded relative to the initial
hydrocarbon in place. The pathway of temporarily reducing viscosity usually involves heat or solvents, or both
heat and solvents.
Some of the existing guidelines for application of these methods to particular unconventional resources are listed
in Fig. 1.10. The huge in-place volume and low primary-recovery factor requires advances in current production
technologies. In fact, we might need transformational technologies to be able to develop some existing fields. Some
of the enabling and transformational technologies for the current recovery schemes are presented in Fig. 1.11.

Oils < 10,000 cp in Oils > 10,000 cp or Oil in Kerogen in Oil Shales or Very

High-Permeability Pay Lower-Quality Pay Viscous Oils in Tight Rock

Process RF (%) Process RF (%) Process RF (%)

Primary depletion through 58 CSS in laminated play 2030

horizontal and multilaterals

CHOPS through vertical 58 Steam injection in 3040
wells medium pay

Extension of enhanced 1525 CSS with additives 3040


waterflooding to 1005,000

cp oil

Steam with additives 3050

SAGD with additives 4060

Low-energy solvent mining 3550 Post-SAGD air injection >50% Thermal in-situ upgrading 3040

Post-CHOPS air injection >50 Low-energy in-situ 3040

Post-CHOPS solvent >50

Fig. 1.10Guidelines for application of different recovery processes.

Downhole CO2

Solvents Completion
CO2/thermal Reservoir
cements Prediction
CO2/high T/PVT
modeling Artifical
Multiphase Lift

flow DTS, solvent placement

and break-through

sampling Geomechanical Low-cost Intervention
understanding in Reservoir Systems
unconsolidated rock Access

Fig. 1.11Application of different technologies to recovery techniques.

BK-SPE-LOW-ENERGY-170161.indb 10 14/07/17 8:21 PM

The Challenges of Unconventional Oil Recovery 11

Fig. 1.12Effectiveness and maturity of different recovery technologies.

1.1.8 Effectiveness of Current Depletion Technologies. Many of the recovery technologies shown in Fig. 1.12
are still in their infancy. Further, some of these technologies are more effective than others in mobilizing uncon-
ventional oil. Effectiveness (i.e., recovery factor) strongly correlates to in-situ viscosity, with greater effectiveness
at lower viscosity. A relatively objective assessment of the effectiveness of existing technologies is shown in
Fig. 1.12. Condensing solvent injection is covered under the vapor-assisted petroleum extraction process.

1.1.9 Integrated Approach to Heavy-Oil Production. Because of the interplay between heavy-oil composition
and its suitability as a feedstock for refineries, it is important to have an approach to heavy-oil development that
is integrated across the spectrum from drilling through production, surface processing, and refining. Sometimes, a
solvent that might have been used for improved oil recovery fouls the catalyst in an upgrading or refining facility.
Also, use of a certain well completion might release sand particles that could cause severe abrasion in the surface
equipment. A suggested integrated approach is shown in Fig. 1.13.

1.1.10 Monograph Summary. The balance of this monograph revolves around current understanding of how
the engineering and environmental challenges of unconventional oil production are met. Successive chapters are
organized around the following topics.

Recovery methods for unconventional oils from primary recovery to EOR are reviewed in Chapter 2. Sig-
nificant emphasis is placed on thermal recovery because of the beneficial effect of temperature on crude-oil
Chapter 3 presents an overview of unconventional oil fluid and rock properties relevant to established
advanced recovery methods. Such information is needed for physical understanding, analytical models, and
numerical simulation.
Cold heavy-oil production, including techniques to maximize primary recovery, is presented in Chapter 4.
Chapter 5 extends discussion of cold recovery processes to improved oil recovery and EOR. Topics range
from waterflooding to enhanced methods, including polymer flooding, emulsion flooding, and water-alter-
nating-gas injection processes for mobility control.

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12 Low-Energy Processes for Unconventional Oil Recovery

Reservoir: Drilling and Completions:

Fluid characterization High development and operating costs

Unconsolidated reservoir rock Abnormal well and completion designs

Production forecasting Sand production

Difficult recovery processses

Heavy Oil Challenges

Facilities and Operations: Refining and Marketing:

Oil/water separartion High energy consumption in processing/upgrading
Transportation High carbon/hydrogen ratio

Large areal footprint Coke and CO2 disposal

Refining capacity

Fig. 1.13Integrated development of unconventional oil.

Steam injection ranging from classical steamflooding to SAGD optimization and surface-facilities consid-
erations are discussed in Chapter 6.
Chapter 7 presents air injection for heavy and viscous oils, the benefits and challenges of the process, and
work flows for bringing the process out of the laboratory to the field.
Alternative means of supplying thermal energy to the reservoir are surveyed in Chapter 8. Topics range
from nuclear energy to solar thermal energy to electrical heating, including in-situ upgrading of heavy
Mechanistic simulation has greatly improved our understanding of advanced recovery processes at core,
project, and field scale. Chapter 9 summarizes current understanding and approaches to simulation at these
various scales.
Although surface facilities and operations are mentioned throughout the text, Chapter 10 is devoted to this
Finally, Chapter 11 reviews the state of the art in the application of EOR in unconventional liquid-rich shale

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